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Jazz Album Reviews: Trio records with Tyshawn Sorey and Bill Evans

Jazz Album Reviews: Trio records with Tyshawn Sorey and Bill Evans

By Steve Feeney

Percussionist Tryshawn Sorey has released a trio record with standards that may very well be on my 2022 list of Best of the Year and a couple of “new” releases with the legendary pianist Bill Evans.

Tyshawn Sorey Trio, Mesmerism (Yeros7 Music)

Bill Evans: Inner Spirit (Resonance Records)

Bill Evans: Morning Glory (Resonance Records)

The talents of MacArthur’s “genius” scholarship winner Tyshawn Sorey (b. 1980) have mostly struck me as a trifle. I keep promising to give his many albums a second chance after a first listen, but I rarely do.

Last year, Sorey collaborated with Vijay Iyer and Linda Oh on the trio record Uneasy (ECM). (Arts Fuse Review) There I could finally approach him as a drummer without having to navigate the usual atmosphere and complexity first. Others agreed – the album landed near the top of many Best-of-2021 polls.

Now the powerful percussionist has released a trio record with standards that may well be on my annual list for 2022. Mesmerism has pianist Aaron Diehl and bassist Matt Brewer, both established but perhaps underrated professionals, in a set of standards of different vintages.

When I put on the plate without really looking at it first, I was surprised by the opening cut. After the dramatic intro, I thought: Wait a minute, isn ‘t it a Horace Silver tune? It’s actually “Enchantment”, a track that was originally on the 1956 album Six pieces of silver.

Silver’s gift of mixing hard bop-punch with beautiful melodies comes in loud and clear. There is also a noticeable nod to Ahmad Jamal in the lushness of Diehl’s chord over Brewer’s restless bass line. Meanwhile, Sorey mixes and highlights the juxtaposition to perfection.

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Muhal Richard Abram’s “Two Over One” continues to draw on the comfortable mix of personalities in this triangle. Abrams knew how to stretch without pulling too hard on the shapely feel of his pieces. You are never lost, but you must lean into his work. As with the Silver tune, the rich rumbling of the performances here rewards admirably repeated careful listening.

Paul Motian’s “From Time to Time” gets a more exciting review, with pianistic plinks and plunks, exciting grounding from the bass, and the leader’s selection of prints and shimmers that take us to a quiet – but not completely relaxed – place. A rewarding hint of consonance at the end is welcome.

Back on terra firma, the trio’s version of Duke Ellington’s “Rem Blues” swings nicely via a bass line, and its uncomplicated theme hovers over Sorey’s deep-in-the-pocket pulse.

Sorey has expressed admiration for the work of pianist Bill Evans (1929-1980). Here he offers a spacious, yet exploratory version of “Detour Ahead”, a classic tune that Evans resumed in the early part of his career. But for me, the feeling of the master comes out more clearly during an extended training session with “Autumn Leaves” where Sorey / Diehl / Brewer aims for rhapsodic happiness and gives it.

Speaking of Evans, there have been quite a few “new” releases with the pianist in recent years. A while back, I played with arguing – even though I eventually rejected – it could be also many of these posthumous “finds” (some of these sessions were available before, as bootlegs). Eventually, the fact that there is no Evans to discover me anymore bothers me. Fortunately, we are not there yet.

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Two recent double-CD releases feature the late, great pianist in live trio recordings from Buenos Aires in the 70’s.

Inner Spirit was recorded in 1979 at the Teatro General San Martín with Marc Johnson (bass) and Joe LaBarbera (drums). The Johnson / LaBarbera unit was the last pianist to perform with – his excesses caught up with him. (LaBarbera, in his memoirs Times Remembered: The Final Years of the Bill Evans Trio, written with Charles Levin, tells of Evans ‘upsetting last year, and so does Laurie Verchomin, Evans’ last boyfriend, in her book The big love: Life and death with Bill Evans.)

Despite the leader’s addiction to drugs, LaBarbera noted that Evans could always, remarkably enough, gather at the keyboard and produce first-class music. This album is a nice companion to what may be the definitive performances of the same trio, which can be found on the two albums of The Paris Concertwhich was recorded two months later.

Inner Spirit includes some of the songs that were to make up the repertoire for the Paris recordings. It’s the gorgeous, sweet Evans original “Laurie”, dedicated to the aforementioned young lady who was there until, just a year after this recording, she and LaBarbera accompanied him on his last trip to the hospital.

The version of George Gershwin’s “I Loves You, Porgy” is an album highlight, well thought out tempo and performed. And the frequently recorded “Nardis” is an exciting ride for everyone, especially LaBarbera.

A set from 1973, recorded at the Teatro Gran Rex and with the title Morning Glory, has Evans with Eddie Gomez (bass) and Marty Morell (drums). The emphasis is, not uncharacteristically, on romance. Two favorites for me here are “Who can I turn to?” and the transcendent «My Foolish Heart». But it’s all done music and recorded well. Maybe this excursion is a little more relaxed than the later concert. Or is that ease projected by the listener, knowing that there was still some time to go for Evans at that time?

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Steve Feeney is a native of Maine and attended schools in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. He holds a Master of Arts degree in American and New England studies from the University of Southern Maine. He started reviewing music on a freelance basis for Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram in 1995. He was later asked to also review theater and dance. Recently he added as an outlet and is happy to now contribute to Arts Fuse.

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